Monday, 15 June 2009

CBBC Q and A

I couldn't make the Writersroom event tonight, but my friend and writers' group buddy, Matt Sinclair, did. Here's what he had to say.

On stage were writer, Elly Brewer, and the new head of CBBC drama, Steven Andrew. Steven in particular lit up the room. He reminded me very much of the Paul Mayhew-Archer, who guest lectured during my MA at the end of a long day, but had us all enthralled. Steven is a man who clearly knows his stuff like the back of his hand, absolutely loves what he does, and would undoubtedly be someone a writer would love to work with.

We saw a clip of MI High, The Sarah Jane Adventures, and Summerhill and CBBC want to build on those brands. The demise of CITV (where Steven used to work) was a real blow because it was only really CITV and CBBC doing children's drama (despite all the channels out there.) So the BBC’s remit is kind of bigger, better, but fewer.

Steven wants drama that will stay with kids and they'll talk about in the pub (when they're adults) like we do about Press Gang, Catweasel, Worzel Gummidge and the Wombles etc... He wants to create stuff that sits in the memory for thirty years. Or 'memories that carry on,' as he put it.

He wants dramas that show us and make us think about the world with a fresh perspective. Maybe the world isn't what it seems. He wants unmissable story telling that stands out against Disney and Nickelodeon etc.

The drama should be all of these: MAGICAL (like waking up and seeing carpet of snow for the first time) THRILLING (like a ride at Alton Towers) and EXCITING (like Christmas Eve when you're a kid).

When Steven was at ITV a producer said that there are two types of writers:
1) Writers who can write anything and will write anything to get it on TV and
2) Writers who have something to say.

He wants the second. Think about what you're saying, what it is about. He worked on My Parents are Aliens and was essentially about the absurdities of the human condition. If an episode was pitched that wasn't about that, it was dropped.

More important: It needs rock solid characters. In New York someone pitched him a multi platform type show that was a great idea etc but, ultimately his response was: who are your characters and why do we want to go with them?

Steven was then asked from the audience if there was something they didn't want. He discounted nothing (remember that characters are his priority.) But he did say that they had a few Narnia type dramas knocking around and said the worst things were cliched characters: geeks, troublesome teens, that kind of thing.

He also said that if there's a lot of dialogue he wouldn’t bother. As always, you've got to hook people in the first 10 pages and visual story telling without reams and reams of dialogue is the best way. He felt that maybe mental illness in school kids was in the ether and he was also interested in an ethnic or outside perspective on British culture.

Finally, Ellie's tips were: don't talk down to kids, they'll know straight away and you'll lose them. Keep scenes and dialogue tight. The story must be rooted in the world of the child. They drive it, find solutions and solve problems. There must be something emotionally tangible in there, even if it’s fantastical. Kids are interested in life and death.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting Jez - some really useful words of wisdom there. Please fist-bump Mister Sinclair for me.

Paul McIntyre said...

Ditto on the fist-bump - thanks to the both of you.

Yehudah Jez Freedman said...

he will be delighted